Future of abortion rights in Iowa to be set by Iowa’s highest court

The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments to dissolve the permanent injunction on a 2018 abortion ban on Tuesday. Lawyers for the state argued that the precedent the injunction was based on has changed, requiring the courts to reinstate the ‘fetal heartbeat’ law.


Grace Smith

The Iowa State Capitol is seen before the opening of the 2022 Legislative Session in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. At the State Capitol, legislative leaders spoke in their chambers while rally members congregated in the rotunda in support of freedom. The 2022 Legislative Session started today and will end in April.

Liam Halawith, Politics Editor

The fate of abortion rights in Iowa lies in the hands of the seven-member panel of Iowa’s most senior judges — the Iowa Supreme Court. 

Attorneys representing Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and abortion rights activists argued in front of the state’s highest court on Tuesday morning over Reynolds’ request for the court to dissolve a permanent injunction on a 2018 abortion ban known as the “fetal heartbeat” law. 

The decision from the Iowa Supreme Court could take from weeks to months to be released by the court, leaving abortion rights in the state in limbo. 

The 2018 law, most commonly known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, would ban abortions after a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, or around six weeks of pregnancy — which most experts assert is long before most women know they are pregnant. Abortion is currently legal until 20 weeks of pregnancy in Iowa. 

“I remain optimistic that the Iowa Supreme Court will allow the fetal heartbeat bill to take effect as the Iowa Constitution requires. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, decision-making power has been returned to the states,” Reynolds said in a news release following the hearing. “Our citizens and their elected officials have chosen to promote life and end abortion at a heartbeat, with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.” 

The governor previously attempted to litigate her request in the Polk County District Court, and Judge Celene Gogerty denied the governor’s request to lift the injunction because of unanswered questions on the precedent supporting the court’s authority to vacate the judgment. 

Christopher Schandevel, an attorney for the conservative Christian organization Alliance Defending Freedom who represented the governor in the case, argued that Iowa courts have long dissolved injunctions when substantial changes in the law have occurred, giving the court precedent to do so in this case. 

Schandevel argued that since the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the common law protections for abortion rights in their Dobbs v. Jackson decision in June 2022, the underlying law had changed substantially requiring the courts to lift the injunction on the 2018 law. 

The 2019 injunction on the “fetal heartbeat” bill held that the law placed an undue burden on pregnant people and was by default unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade that made abortion a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution requiring a higher legal standard to restrict those rights. 

Peter Im, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, argued that the injunction should remain because the governor had not followed proper civil procedure when filing an appeal with the courts. Also, attorneys for the governor had not defined a new standard of review for the 2018 law after the undue burden standard, which found the ban unconstitutional, was upended by the U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

Im also argued that since the law was unconstitutional when it was signed into law that it should remain blocked. Im also emphasized that a motion to dissolve an injunction does not exist in Iowa Civil Procedure, therefore there is no legal precedent to reinstate the five-year-old law.